New & even more painful: the almost-greatest teams
Sob story: The Redskins were coming off a Super Bowl win in the strike-shortened 1982 season, and looked to add a more legitimate crown under their hot, young coach, Joe Gibbs. Their defense was just good (11th in the league), but the offense scored a then-NFL record 541 points. This was a team littered with stars on offense: the Hogs, the Diesel, the Fun Bunch, and MVP quarterback Theismann. They entered the Super Bowl with an 11-game win streak, including a 51-7 demolition of the Rams in the divisional round, and were prohibitive favorites against the 12-4 Raiders in the Super Bowl ... but they just lost, baby – 38-9, no less.
Sob story: This might have been the AFL's greatest team. No other club in the 10-year history of the league matched its 13-1 record, and it was teeming with Raiders legends in various stages of their careers. They scored 468 points in 14 games – still among the greatest offenses of the Super Bowl Era – and had a four-game edge on their closest competitors, the Oilers, who had the decency to lose 40-7 to Oakland in the league title game. The Raiders were given a chance in Super Bowl II against a battered Packers team that finished 9-4-1 while clinging to the last vestiges of its dynasty. But they lost 33-14 in a game that seemed to prove the almighty dominance of the NFL.
Sob story: The 49ers didn't lose a Super Bowl in five tries, but suffered plenty of postseason disappointment. Their 14-2 team in 1990 fell in the NFC title game to the Giants. Joe Montana was injured in that game, effectively ending his career in San Francisco while opening the door for Steve Young. This 1992 team, another 14-2 juggernaut, exceeded the disappointment. Young was brilliant in his first full season running the offense and earned MVP honors. The 49ers also beat some top competition, with a 6-1 record against playoff teams heading into the conference title game against the upstart Cowboys. But they lost, at home, to eventual champ Dallas, 30-20. In Bay-ville, they say that the small monkey on Young's back grew three sizes that day. He would famously remove it two years later with 6 TD passes in a Super Bowl win over San Diego.
Sob story: The Rams and their "Greatest Show on Turf" offense won the Super Bowl in 1999, bumbled through a 10-6 campaign in 2000 as their defense decided to take the season off, and then returned to form under second-year coach Martz in 2001. Marshall Faulk scored 21 TDs and averaged 6.3 yards every time he touched the ball. The Rams outgained opponents by an average of 137 YPG, they became the first team in NFL history to score 500 or more points in three straight seasons, and their average game was a 14-point blowout. They were favored by that many points in their Super Bowl coronation lap against overmatched New England, an 11-5 team that didn't even know who would play quarterback until three days before the game. But the Patriots physically beat up Faulk, the St. Louis receivers and two-time MVP quarterback Kurt Warner, and held on for a 20-17 win.
Sob story: The first of Minnesota's four Super Bowl losers, this Vikings team had it all: the best defense in the league, the best offense in the league, nine Pro Bowlers, five future Hall of Famers and a great leader in fiery quarterback Joe Kapp (pictured above). Their defense was so good that it remains one of the stingiest in modern NFL history. They lost their regular-season opener and finale, but won 12 straight in between. When they reached the Super Bowl, they were primed to put an end to the upstart AFL, which had broken through with the Jets the year prior. Instead, the AFC officially arrived as the Chiefs humiliated Minnesota with a 23-7 beating. As far as upsets go, it was just slightly sub-Namath in proportions.
Sob story: Dan Marino's only trip to the Super Bowl came with what was clearly his best team. The Dolphins had a stifling defense and an effective ground game that accounted for 18 touchdowns, while Marino rewrote the NFL record books with 48 TD passes and 5,084 passing yards (still the NFL standard). Mark Duper and Mark Clayton were in top form – they combined for 144 receptions, 2,698 yards and 26 TDs, and each averaged more than 18 yards per reception. Mesmerizing numbers. Marino was the story of the year, and the Fish swam through the AFC playoffs without as much as a wave, outscoring their two opponents, Seattle and Pittsburgh, exactly 2-to-1 (76-38). One problem: Their Super Bowl opponent was better. The 15-1 49ers were also explosive on offense, but they had the league's best D to back it up. It was supposed to be the greatest Super Bowl of all time, and it was ... for San Francisco, which won 38-16.
Sob story: The Vikings scored 556 points, thanks in large part to the unstoppable receiving duo of veteran Cris Carter and rookie sensation Randy Moss. No team in NFL history had ever scored more points in a single season (to that point). Their only loss was a three-point job in Tampa, and they reached the NFC championship with ease. In the late stages of that game with Atlanta, Minnesota sent Gary Anderson out to kick a 39-yarder and take a 10-point lead – the same Anderson who was a perfect 35-for-35 on field goals in the regular season. What could go wrong? Of course, Anderson missed, and Atlanta went on to win in overtime. The Vikings' quarterbacks and coaches have changed over the years, but their bridesmaid existence has continued – even their best teams have never been quite good enough.
Sob story: The Colts were already a frustrated bunch going into the 1968 season. In 1967, they were 11-0-2 heading into the final game of the season, but they missed the playoffs by losing to the rival Rams in that finale. The NFL had gone to a divisional format that year for the first time in its history, and when both teams finished 11-1-2, it was the Rams who earned the Coastal Division's only spot. The mighty one-loss Colts sat at home while the NFL sent three nine-win teams to its first-ever playoff. It got worse in 1968. The Colts had the NFL's No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense in 1968, and with their 34-0 shutout of the Browns in the NFL title game, the world championship was basically theirs. They just had to handle the AFL pretenders from New York ... which, of course, they didn't. Joe Namath parlayed Super Bowl III into a Hall of Fame ticket (and years of charming tipsiness). The Colts had to settle for their role as the greatest non-champion of the era.
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